Ahhh, Star Wars…my problematic yet lovable fairytale in space! It’s been part in my life for as long as I can remember. Long before I first watched the movies, I spent hours playing with my cousin’s Leia and Padmè action figures and even performed the Opening Fanfare with my piano class one year. But not until I was 20 did I see the Original Trilogy–and I enjoyed it so much, it inspired me to write my first (now trunked) novel. Then in 2015 I adopted Rey as one of my favorite heroines of all time…and in 2019, she and Ben Solo singlehandedly pulled me out of the worst writing slump I’d had in years.
There’s so much I love about Star Wars–its unique blend of science-fiction and fantasy, its mythological elements, its characters. But as soon as Eva-Joy and Katie Hanna announced the Everything Star Wars Blogathon, I knew the first thing I wanted to write was a tribute to John Williams and his epic soundtracks.
Thanks to the incredible “What the Force” podcast, I’ve learned quite a bit about Williams and his influence on Star Wars. Not only has he told the story through his music just as much as the writers and actors have, but he transformed modern filmmaking with his leitmotifs (recurring musical themes) and epic, sweeping scores.
I could wax eloquent on themes we all know and love, like the Opening Fanfare, “Duel of the Fates,” or Rey’s Theme. Today, however, I’m highlighting a few of the lesser-known but absolutely brilliant tracks. A few of them may still be a little more familiar, especially if you listen to a lot of Star Wars music–but I did try to think outside the box! I’ve also included links to each track so you can listen to them yourself 🙂
“Anakin’s Theme” (The Phantom Menace)
Let’s start off with a nice juicy helping of tragedy right off the bat. Anakin Skywalker is introduced as a round-faced, irrepressible little boy, the very picture of childhood innocence and resilience. His gentle, classical-sounding theme seems to reflect this…until the lilting melody descends into the forebodingly martial tune the world first heard in A New Hope: the Imperial March. It’s an appropriate touch for a prequel trilogy where, in many ways, you know exactly how things will end right at the beginning.
“The Meadow Picnic” (The Attack of the Clones)
Everyone knows “Across the Stars,” Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala’s haunting, beautiful love theme…but in my humble opinion, this less-familiar piece is just as magical. The middle of the track features a brighter, almost playful version of “Across the Stars,” and while there are some darker melodies threaded into the track, it does reflect the more lighthearted side of Anakin and Padmè’s doomed romance.
“The Birth of the Twins & Padme’s Destiny” (The Revenge of the Sith)
Similarly, everyone talks about how John Williams went all out for Obi-Wan and Anakin’s duel in the lava fields of Mustafar…but what about the absolutely heart-wrenching music during Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader, the births of Luke and Leia, and Padmé’s death? A dark, chanting chorus rises in intensity against a feeble but stubbornly persistent Force theme, underlining the apparent triumph of Emperor Palpatine over the Chosen One.
“Ben’s Death & TIE Fighter Attack” (A New Hope)
I admit, it was hard finding a track for A New Hope that was distinctive, but not so famous that it’d feel like a cop-out. I suspect my difficulty arose from the simple fact that the universe, themes, and characters of Star Wars were still very much in development, and both George Lucas and John Williams were still mastering their craft. It just wasn’t as rich yet. That said, this is definitely a good track: you go from the swelling, almost melodramatic strains of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death to the all-guns-blazing Millennium Falcon theme as it evades Imperial pursuers.
“The Duel” (The Empire Strikes Back)
Okay, this one may be somewhat on the “more famous” side–but guys, it is just GOOD MOVIE MUSIC. “The Duel” is from the scene where Darth Vader reveals the Big Whopping Truth to Luke–the Big Whopping Truth that still sends millions if not billions of jaws crashing to the floor. The Imperial March is fantastically dark and triumphant and the brass section is having an absolute field day…until Leia and Lando swoop in with the Falcon!! And they rescue Luke!!! And the whole mood of the piece changes!!!! And it’s all just…(*chef’s kiss*)…ABSOLUTELY EPIC.
“Leia’s News/Light of the Force” (The Return of the Jedi Original Soundtrack)
So apparently this track isn’t on the new remastered soundtracks, and I’m not sure why???? But this is the music from two different scenes: when Leia merrily assures Han that Luke is her brother and not a love interest (thus making certain memories of The Empire Strikes Back a bit icky for the rest of us), and when Luke burns Darth Vader’s armor. This track, in my opinion, features the most intensely emotional rendition of the Force theme–which is very appropriate for Anakin’s redemptive end.
“The Abduction” (The Force Awakens)
I dithered back and forth between this one or “Kylo Ren Arrives at the Battle”–but I finally chose “The Abduction” because, according to musician and Star Wars enthusiast Felicia Wisniewski, Williams likely “quotes” Tchaikovsky’s famous Romeo and Juliet Overture in the moment when Han spots Kylo carrying Rey into his ship. Since Williams is so heavily influenced by classical music, it wouldn’t shock me at all if he did this on purpose. I also love the strained, desperate version of Rey’s theme at the end of this track…and the way it ends on an unresolved note.
“The Spark” (The Last Jedi)
The Last Jedi is one of the richest, most emotional of the Star Wars soundtracks, and “The Spark” is a great example of this. As Luke Skywalker (apparently) arrives on Crait to help Leia and the Resistance, the track starts off with a somber version of the Force theme…then transitions into Luke and Leia’s gentle theme…then slips into Han and Leia’s love theme as Luke gives her the Falcon‘s golden dice. (*cries softly*) And then, rather abruptly, the music rallies and intensifies, growing aggressive and defiant as Luke walks out alone to give Kylo Ren the finest slap-down the galaxy has ever seen.
“Parents” & Coming Together” (The Rise of Skywalker “For Your Consideration” Soundtrack)
I chose two for The Rise of Skywalker and I will not apologize, because these two tracks go together like, well, “two halves of the same protagonist.” (*wink*) You won’t find them on the official soundtrack, but the reason is delightfully obvious: The Rise of Skywalker soundtrack came out before the film, and if we’d heard a heroic version of Kylo Ren’s theme followed by a romantic, twinkly Force Theme before we saw the movie, we would’ve been spoiled. But you can listen to “Parents” and “Coming Together” on the nearly-complete soundtrack submitted for the score’s Oscar nomination! These glorious pieces of music are, of course, from Rey and Ben’s final Force connection…the scene that left me, an anti-Reylo for four straight years, slack-jawed and starry-eyed.
And thus concludes my first post for the Everything Star Wars Blogathon! I hope you enjoy listening to these musical selections–and I’d love to hear your thoughts/favorite tracks, as well. Be sure to check Eva-Joy and Katie Hanna‘s sites for links to other blogs participating in this event–and stay tuned for my second post on Saturday where I nerd out over the classical and mythical connections to Reylo, the OTP that launched a thousand fanfics.
Oh yes indeedy, it’s gonna be fun 😉